Worker Stress
and Negative Employee
Attitudes and Behaviors
Introduction to
Psychology by Ronald E. Riggio
Defining Worker Stress
A stressor is an environmental event that is
perceived by an individual to be threatening.
Worker stress involves the physiological
and/or psychological reactions to events
that are perceived to be threatening or
Negative stress (or distress) can cause
stress-related illness and can affect
absenteeism, turnover, and work
Sources of Worker Stress
Situational stress is stress arising from
certain conditions that exist in the work
environment or the worker’s personal life.
Stressful occupations include air traffic
controller, health care provider, police
officer, and firefighter.
Characteristics of jobs related to worker
stress include heavy workload, poor
working conditions, physical dangers, and
dealing with difficult clients and coworkers.
Sources of Worker Stress
Organizational sources of worker stress
include work task stressors, such as:
Work overload, which results when a job
requires excessive speed, output, or
Underutilization, resulting from workers
feeling that their knowledge, skills, or
energy are not being fully used.
Sources of Worker Stress
Organizational sources of worker stress
include work role stressors, such as:
Job ambiguity, which results from a lack
of clearly defined jobs and/or work tasks.
Lack of control, a feeling of having little
input or effect on the job and/or work
Physical work conditions, including
extreme temperatures, loud/distracting
noises, crowding, poor lighting and
Interpersonal stress, which results from
difficulties dealing with others (coworkers,
customers, supervisors) in the workplace.
Sources of Worker Stress
Organizational sources of worker stress include
work role stressors, such as:
Emotional labor, which involves the demands of
regulating and controlling emotions in the
Harassment, including sexual harassment,
harassment due to group membership (e.g.,
gender, race, sexual orientation), and being
singled out by a coworker or supervisor.
Organizational change, including mergers,
changes in work technology, and
personnel/managerial changes
Work-family conflict, which results from efforts
to balance competing demands of work and
Sources of Worker Stress
Individual (dispositional) sources of work
stress include:
The Type A behavior pattern, a
personality characterized by excessive
drive, competitiveness, impatience, and
Susceptibility to stress vs. hardiness,
the notion that some people may be more
resistant to the health-damaging effects of
Self-efficacy, an individual’s beliefs in
his/her abilities to engage in courses of
action that will lead to desired outcomes.
Measurement of Worker Stress
Physiological measures of stress
include blood pressure monitoring,
EKGs for heart rate, or blood tests for
stress-linked hormones (cortisol) and
Difficulties with such measures include
variation of such physiological processes
within each person throughout the day
and variation between individuals.
Medical personnel are needed to
administer such measures.
Measurement of Worker Stress
Self-report assessments of stress
include reports about organizational
conditions and reports about
psychological and/or physical states.
Reports on organizational conditions
involve questions about job autonomy,
feedback, task identity, task significance,
skill variety, workload, etc.
Self-report measures of psychological
/physical stress include the Stress
Diagnostic Survey, the Occupational
Stress Indicator, and the Job Stress
Measurement of Worker Stress
Measurement of stressful life events
involves self-reports of significant events in a
person’s recent history that can cause stress.
One measure is the Social Readjustment
Rating Scale, a checklist where individuals
total the numerical “stress severity” scores
associated with significant life events
experienced in the past year.
Research suggests that persons with high
personal stress indexes perform more
poorly, have higher absenteeism, and
change jobs more frequently (Bhagat, 1983).
Measurement of Worker Stress
Person-environment fit (P-E fit) refers to
the match between a worker’s abilities, needs,
and values, and organizational demands,
rewards, and values.
P-E fit is positively related to organizational
commitment and negatively related to
turnover (Hult, 2005).
Measurement of P-E fit involves assessing
worker skills and abilities, along with job
demands and features of the work
Effects of Worker Stress
Stress-related illnesses include
ulcers, colitis, high blood pressure,
heart disease, and migraine
headaches. Stress can also worsen
common colds and infections.
The relationship between stress and
performance is complex, and generally
is curvilinear (involving an inverted U),
where both very low and very high
stress are associated with poor
Effects of Worker Stress
Job burnout is a syndrome resulting
from prolonged exposure to work
stress that leads to withdrawal from
the organization.
Burnout is especially high in human
service professions.
Burnout occurs in three phases:
1. Emotional exhaustion
2. Depersonalization
3. Feelings of low personal accomplishment
Coping with Worker Stress
Individual coping strategies are techniques
such as exercise, meditation, or cognitive
restructuring that can be used to deal with
work stress.
More efficient work methods, including
time management, may also be used,
although their success depends on
individual commitment.
Vacation time and voluntary absences may
also be used to reduce stress, although
missed work may increase stress upon the
employee’s return to work.
Coping with Worker Stress
Organizational coping strategies are
techniques that organizations can use to
reduce stress for all or most employees.
Organizational strategies include:
improving person-job fit and employee
training and orientation; increase
employees’ sense of control; eliminating
punitive management; removing
hazardous work conditions; providing a
supportive work environment; and
improving organizational communication.
Negative Employee Attitudes
and Behaviors
Counterproductive work behaviors
(CWBs) are deviant, negative behaviors
that are harmful to an organization and its
Meta-analyses suggest that CWBs are more
prevalent in younger employees and those
with lower job satisfaction (Lau et. al., 2003).
CWBs, and workplace aggression and
violence, are linked to trait negative
affectivity, anger, and other personality
variables (Douglas and Martinko, 2001).
The incidence of CWBs is negatively related
to the incidence of organizational citizenship
behaviors (Dalal, 2005).
Negative Employee Attitudes
and Behaviors
Alcohol and drug use in the workplace is
related to workplace accidents, decreased
productivity, increased absenteeism and
turnover; it costs billions of dollars
Workers who report problems with alcohol
or drugs have greater job instability and
lower job satisfaction.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
involve counseling that is provided for a
variety of worker problems, particularly
drug and alcohol abuse.